Nobody has a "perfect" performance every time they go onstage—not even the dancers at American Ballet Theatre. Despite knowing this, we tend to beat ourselves up enough over the tiniest of slip ups without having someone else pointing out our errors, too.
But imagine if your mistake was posted on YouTube for the whole world to see. That's exactly what happened to ABT principal Misty Copeland when a less-than-flattering clip of her performing the infamous fouetté turns in Swan Lake was shared on YouTube. Rather than report the video as offensive and pretend it never happened (like we would have done), Copeland wrote a compelling response on Instagram, linking to the video herself.
Yes, we all know there are supposed to be 32 fouettés, and that the goal is to start and finish them in the same place. But as Misty points out, there's a lot more to the role of Odette/Odile (and to ballet!) than that. Here's what she had to say in her two-part post:
"Link in my profile. I'm happy to share this because I will forever be a work in progress and will never stop learning. I learn from seeing myself on film and rarely get to. So thank you.
I will always reiterate that I am by no means the best in ballet. I understand my position and what I represent. I know that I'm in a very unique position and have been given a rare platform. All I've ever wanted is to bring ballet to more people and to help to diversify it.
I've worked extremely hard to be where I am and I believe that what I bring to the table is authentic artistry with a unique point of view through my life experiences, and my unusual path and upbringing. Also as a black woman and black ballerina. I would love to see all of the incredible deserving black dancers get the opportunities that I have.
I will forever be humbled and extremely grateful for the fact that I get to do what I love for a living, that I get to do all of the incredible roles that I do, in particular Swan Queen. There are so many ballerinas that never get to experience dancing the most iconic and demanding role in a ballerinas repertoire. I have so so so much respect for what I do and for the ballerinas I stand on the shoulders of. I'm in awe everyday that I am a part of such an incredible art form that has changed and enriched my life in so many ways and that I get to do it all with ABT.
I don't decide who's promoted or what roles I dance. I never envisioned myself as the Swan Queen after being in the company for almost 15 years before i was given the opportunity. I have such deep and conflicting feelings connected to Swan Lake. As a black woman and as a ballerina given the chance to take on this role. I often question if I deserve to perform this role. My conclusion, I do. Some of the most memorable Swan Queens in history have brought so much more to this role without having to present the incredible and evolved technique of today by doing insane tricks that bring some to see Swan Lake. For the anticipated 32 fouettés. But it is so much more than that.
People come to see ballet for the escape. For the experience of being moved through our movement and artistry, not to score us on the technicality of what we do. This is why ballet is not a sport.
A ballerinas career is not, nor should be defined by how many fouettés she executes. They are a part of the choreography to tell a story of pulling off the entrancement she holds over prince Siegfried. The point is to finish the 3rd act with a whirlwind movement that sucks him in just one last time before it's revealed that Odile is not Odette. This is the incredible beauty of ballet. To move people.
I'm happy to have this dialogue because it's something I believe in whole heartedly. The history of ballet and it's origin of pure freedom and expression is what we need to hold onto. Not to come into the theatre as a critic armed with judgement.
I do appreciate the changes in the ballet technique, focused on evolving our technical abilities, but the point is to move people and for them to understand the stories we tell through dance. And that is an incredible responsibility and opportunity I will never take for granted."
Thanks, Misty, for the reminder that there's more to ballet than technique—and that even the pros have an off day (and that's okay, too).